By Mike Garofola
PALATINE -- Through the 2023 season, Palatine methodically sent off one opponent after another in its quest to remain undefeated. Trophies were collected along the way. The success sent them into the Fremd Sectional final against top-seeded Glenbrook North.
Unfortunately for the second-seeded Pirates, the result on a cool and rainy night at Hildebrant Field did not go their way. Glenbrook North overturned a one-goal deficit to book a place in the Barrington Supersectional when Ian Lee shocked the big crowd with his game-winner in the 80th minute.
The Spartans (20-3-2) lifted the trophy much to the delight of the hordes of fans that poured onto the field moments after Lee bagged his 27th of the season, and sixth in the post-season.
"(This) team never felt out of this game, even after conceding their first half goal," said Glenbrook North manager Paul Vignocchi. “They were locked in and focused, just as they've been all season long. Our second half play proved that. We took control of the game against a great opponent.”
The Spartans, who now own their first sectional title since 2012, have a chance to advance into the final weekend of the season for the first time since 2004.
"Credit GBN. (They) played really well all night long. For us, we just didn't seem right out there tonight," said a disappointed Aaron Morris, who in just his second year in charge of the Pirates program saw his lads fall short of reaching a supersectional final since 1995 when Willie Filian led the club to a Class AA (two-class system) third place finish.
"We were a little slow to everything tonight. We would win the first ball, then be a step slow to the second.
"I don't know if it was a case of some nerves or the fact that we just plain ran out of gas after two-straight overtime victories to get here. The second half was mostly GBN, and they got the result because of it."
Palatine sophomore Sebastian Lopez struck the opener in the 27th minute after a long free kick from Jordan Mok was allowed to stay kept in the Glenbrook North box far too long.
Lopez came close to scoring moments earlier. Sebastian Khoury tricked his way to the near end line before playing a lovely ball to the back post, where Lopez just missed with his header.
Glenbrook North’s first quality chance came well before the Lopez goal. Steven Rhee unloaded a nasty right-footed cracker that Pirates keeper Charlie Rebollar pushed up and over the bar with a late glove.
The final analysis of the match showed that the constant pressure and high work-rate of the Spartans, coupled with the terrific play from their dynamic midfield duo of Ian Lee and Steven Rhee, ultimately made the difference.
Glenbrook North got a wake-up call in its 1-0 win over 13th-seeded Rolling Meadows in the sectional semifinal Oct. 24.
"We were not very good with our possession or overall play in the midfield the other day in our win over Rolling Meadows," said Lee. “But tonight, we were winning a ton of balls, possessed really well and got the ball off our feet so much better.”
"(Palatine) gave us more space in the middle than Rolling Meadows did," added Chase Petersen, who once again was a crucial piece in the Spartans attack with his trademark long throws. “Steven, Ian, and the rest of midfield took advantage of it. It made it easier for our backline to get the ball to them also."
On the tail-end of a well-executed counter, the Spartans Jack Armstrong saw his effort from near the top of the box saved by Rebollar in the final few moments of the first half. It proved to be a signal for an impressive second half of soccer that was on the way for the eventual sectional champs.
"We just told the guys at the half to keep up the energy and work-rate in the second half, and good things would happen for us," Vignocchi said.
Palatine (20-1-3) showed more life just after the intermission. Khoury went just wide of the back post, then had another effort end harmlessly in the gloves of keeper Gil Meyers in the 48th minute.
Glenbrook South’s Lee ran freely through the center channel before sending Michael Miller in. The junior fired just wide, but it signaled the tilting of the game heavily in favor of the Spartans.
A Lee blast required a brave stop from Rebollar, but the ball spilled free to his left. The ever-opportunistic Lee collected it and quickly drove the ball opposite way into the far corner.
The 55th-minute equalizer was just what the Spartans faithful needed to be awakened. They maintained their cheering every minute until the dramatic ending.
A now-resurgent Glenbrook North side, sensing another goal, was far more clinical and played with purpose as it went in search of the possible game-winner.
The Spartans began to create a handful of deep throws from Petersen to keep the pressure on the Palatine backline. Rebollar did well to parry away any troublesome balls.
Palatine thought it had gone ahead when another long free kick from Jordan Mok settled near the six. There several players from both sides appeared to get a touch. That included keeper Meyers, who appeared to keep the ball from going over his end line.
The Pirates bench howled when the referee and his assistant on the near side ruled ‘No goal’ in the 76th-minute. The decision resulted in some words and a yellow card booking to the Pirates assistant.
Play resumed, and it appeared as if 80 minutes would not settle this contest, but Lee stepped up again. He stationed himself at the far post in hopes of another Petersen toss finding him. It did, and Lee was there in the final moments of regulation to steer in the winner.
"We can always count on Chase to give us a chance with his deep throws," Lee said with a smile. “I knew if it came my way, and it did untouched by anyone else, that I could put one into the back of their net."
"It's a heart-breaking way to see your season come to an end," said Morris. “We played well but not at a level that we've been at. Against a great team like GBN, it just wasn't enough."
"This team finds a way to elevate its game against great competition," said a proud Vignocchi. “We needed to tonight, and all of the guys were just fantastic."
Glenbrook North will now head to the Barrington Supersectional at 6 p.m. Oct. 31. The Spartans will meet Elgin (16-3-3), which topped sectional host Round Lake 2-0 Friday. However, the news was not all rosy for the top-seeded Maroons; scoring star Eduardo Nava received a red card in the 79th minute of the win.